Environmental group calls for stronger enforcement on Big Glace Bay beach

·3 min read
Dylan Yates is the founder of the Cape Breton Environmental Association. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC - image credit)
Dylan Yates is the founder of the Cape Breton Environmental Association. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC - image credit)

A volunteer environmental group is calling for stronger enforcement on Big Glace Bay beach now that the strip of sand along the Atlantic Ocean, and the dunes and lake behind them, are a newly designated national wildlife area.

Dylan Yates, founder of the Cape Breton Environmental Association, said people continue to illegally drive vehicles onto the beach, allow dogs off-leash and leave litter.

Those are threats to the ecosystem and to the endangered piping plover, which nests nearby, he said.

"It's been going on for far too long and it's time for fines," Yates told Information Morning Cape Breton. "Warnings are not getting anything done in this area. There's people who know what they shouldn't be doing here and they're doing it anyway, unfortunately."

Yates said he hopes the new designation will help improve things, but he's not overly optimistic.

"I've been coming to this area since I was a child," Yates said. "I'm 31 now and I haven't seen much change with regards to vehicles on the beach and litter and dogs off their leash and stuff like that."

Brittany Wentzell/CBC
Brittany Wentzell/CBC

The association does litter cleanups, and checks with federal environment officials to make sure they aren't disturbing the plovers.

The group has had volunteers hand out pamphlets to educate visitors to the area, but has occasionally run into people who do not want to listen, Yates said.

The association raises awareness on social media and has accompanied federal and provincial enforcement officials while they handed out warnings, but those don't seem to be working, he said.

"It's really tough to see the negativity from some people who visit the area," Yates said.

"I've even come here a few times and seen Jeeps and other things actually parked up on top of dunes."

The area is not just home to piping plovers, but also ducks, geese and other shore birds.

Yates said there are people who come and clean up the beach and support the volunteer group online, but too many continue to ignore the rules.

'Biodiversity is in some serious trouble'

Vehicles pack down the dunes, which doesn't allow them to regenerate naturally, he said, and witnesses have reported seeing vehicles doing doughnuts on the beach.

"If this is what Canada's protected areas look like, biodiversity is in some serious trouble. We need more enforcement and that's just the bottom line."

Ted Barney, a program officer with the wildlife division of Environment and Climate Change Canada, said the entire site had already been designated a migratory bird sanctuary for years and was just recently designated a national wildlife area.

The migratory bird sanctuary primarily means hunting is banned in the area, but the new designation expands protection to other species and all of their habitats, he said.

"It really increases that protection and gives us more opportunities to use those tools to see that protection into perpetuity," Barney said.

Feds, province say they will enforce laws

He said federal officials will work with partners, including the province, to increase compliance with the law, but was unable to say how that would be done.

In an email, the federal department said officers can issue warnings, orders or tickets and can seize goods and arrest violators.

Federal wildlife officers for the Maritimes are based in Dartmouth, N.S., and Sackville, N.B.

Nova Scotia's Department of Natural Resources deals with complaints on beaches between the high-water mark and the ocean.

In an email, the department said officers can seize vehicles that are operating illegally, but have not laid any charges on Big Glace Bay beach recently.

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